WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

There is more than one way to slice up the pie that is the Christian church year, our annual calendar that serves to focus God’s people on Christ’s saving work and word.

The simplest way to slice it would be to view the church year as two equal parts: one that focuses on the life of Christ (also known as the festival half of the year), the other that focuses on the teachings of Christ (the non-festival half). On the other end of the spectrum, the church year can be viewed as 60+ specific Sundays and festivals (plus any number of minor festivals and commemorations), each of which highlights a unique facet of Christ’s work and teaching. In between, the church year consists of six seasons (seven with End Time) with unique sights, sounds, and Scriptural themes that take us from one Advent to the next.

One of the other ways in which the church year can be organized is around the three great festivals that punctuate the Christian year: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. It’s often been said that those three festivals highlight the saving work of our Triune God. Christmas celebrates the love of the God the Father in sending his Son. Easter celebrates the saving work of God the Son. Pentecost celebrates the work of God the Spirit, who breathes life into the Church on earth.

When organized in this way, the church year is viewed from the perspective of three periods of time. The time of Christmas includes the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. The time of Easter includes the seasons of Lent and Easter along with Holy Week. The time of the Church includes the day of Pentecost and all of the Sundays that come after it. This is the way the church year is organized in Christian Worship on pages 157-159 and explained in Christian Worship: Manual on pages 369-384.

Regardless of how you slice it, the Christian church year has and will continue to serve as an invaluable tool for uniting Christ’s church on earth around the gospel as it gathers for worship at the start of each week.

As we continue on that journey together and with Christians all over the world, the next period of time that looms on the horizon is the time of Easter. As that time approaches, we share this resource as one way to help God’s people see the connection and progression from Ash Wednesday through Ascension as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

God’s blessings as you continue your annual remembrance of what our Savior has done!

This post was also published by the Institute for Worship and Outreach and included accompanying resources. Please visit the website of the Institute for Worship and Outreach for copies of those resources.

One of the questions facing the psalmody committee is whether to publish the entire psalter. This would include publishing every verse from all 150 psalms.

Some of the input we have already received encourages us to do just that, or at least to publish more verses from selected psalms.

In his article, Necessary Songs: The Case for Singing the Entire Psalter, Martin Tel makes a nice case for expanding what we do in worship with the Psalms.

One of his main points, that some of the expressions in the psalms do not match the modern American sensibility, is probably a good reason to take his advice. Any time we can point out the difference between the reality of God and modern American sensibilities, people can grow in grace and truth.

The real questions are practical.

Some congregations struggle with the psalms presently printed in Christian Worship. If we expand the number of words that a congregation might speak or sing, how can we put the psalms into a format that makes them accessible to those kinds of congregations? Perhaps appropriate background music for the oral reading of an entire psalm would help them. Perhaps they would sing a hymn based on a psalm, a metrical paraphrase, instead.

Other congregations have used the psalms presently printed in Christian Worship so often that they are getting old. They are appreciating the psalms in Christian Worship: Supplement, but they are looking for more. Perhaps having the text of an entire psalm in a fresh setting would help them.

Near the end of his article, Tel makes the case that abridged psalms might still be very useful in some locations. How much to abridge them is one question. Whether and how to use refrains, both old and new, is another question. But we have become accustomed, sometimes even fondly, to the abridged psalms with refrains in Christian Worship, and they seem to have a good place in WELS worship practices.

What do you think? Publish all the psalms or just selected ones? Publish all the verses or just selected ones?

There is good reason to put a lot of effort into our consideration of psalms in the new hymnal. As Martin Luther wrote, the psalms are words of prophecy, instruction, comfort, prayer, and thanks. He prayed them daily and published how he found Christ in each one.

Do we find Christ in the psalms? That is enough to make them valuable. And as the hymnal of the Scripture, the psalms, whether whole or abridged, will be a valuable part of our synod’s new hymnal.

I’d like to point out that three new resources were posted to the WELS Hymnal Project website recently.

The first is a lengthy work entitled, “Studies in Lutheran Chorales,” by Hilton C. Oswald. From the resource description:

Between the years 1961 and 1997 a series of essays by Hilton Oswald appeared in The Lutheran School Bulletin, the predecessor to The Lutheran Educator. The collection of 47 essays is unique for its contribution in the English language to the understanding of German Lutheran hymns. On the pages of this collection of essays Oswald urges Lutherans to understand and appreciate the treasure of German Lutheran hymnody that we have inherited. The WELS Hymnal Project presents this document, newly formatted and digitized, for useful study in WELS and beyond.

The second is the inaugural issue of Viva Vox, a newsletter published in 1955 by Ralph Gehrke and Kurt Eggert. From the resource description:

In the mid 1950’s Lutheran colleagues Rev. Kurt Eggert and Professor Ralph Gehrke teamed up to circulate a worship newsletter entitled Viva Vox (the Living Voice [of the Gospel]). With Rev. Eggert having served as the project director for Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, the reproduction of these editions is intended only to illustrate how many of the same worship issues of half a century ago are still facing us today as we humbly take on the daunting task and responsibility of working on our next worship book and its accompanying resources. We will add editions as time allows, and we plan to write a few blog articles referencing topics covered in Viva Vox.

The third is a Scripture index of Christian Worship: Supplement. From the resource description:

An extensive scripture index for the hymns of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal is included in the final pages of Christian Worship: Handbook (Dr. C.T. Aufdemberge). A number of years ago a similar index was prepared for Christian Worship: Supplement and is now made available in the hopes that it will serve as a helpful resource for hymn selection in any number of settings.

We present these resources to you in the hopes that you find them useful and edifying.

“Technology,” said Alan Kay, “is anything that was invented after you were born.” Kay knows a thing or two about technology. He pioneered a tool that most of us use every day: a computer interface that uses panes, or windows, to display content. For him that’s technology.

Alan Kay is also a classical organist; he plays music on an instrument invented long before he was born. Under his definition, an organ isn’t really technology. But anyone who knows how an organ works intuitively realizes that an organ is a marvel of technology. And that’s how we know that Kay’s definition needs improvement. It’s more cute than useful.

Kevin Kelly, an American author and thinker best known for co-founding Wired, has an exotic definition all his own. In his book, What Technology Wants, Kelly makes the case for his conviction that technology is actually a seventh kingdom of life. Kelly claims that technology plays an integral role in the past and future evolution of life itself. He believes that technology is a guiding force in the universe, a contention that obviously conflicts with our biblical worldview but even rejects common secular consensus about the theory of evolution. If Kay’s definition is too cute, Kelly’s is too provocative.

When I introduced myself and the work of my committee I wrote,

I’d like this project to be an opportunity to do some careful thinking, some detailed research, and even some philosophical musing about how we want to use technology to accomplish our goals.

My committee is meeting for the first time this week, so I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to proceed with the careful thinking, detailed research, and philosophical musing that I promised we’d do. We need to define “technology” before we can really explore the topic. We need a definition of technology that reflects the nature of technology, handles its philosophical impact on society, and also fits well into a spiritually enlightened system of thought. In other words, we need a definition of technology that is both empirical and theological. This is more than just finding a “Christian way” to think about iPhones and iPads, this is deciding to have a well-informed conversation about the nature and role of technology in our lives.

So here’s a definition that I think works very well: technology is the collection of tools and media that people use to extend their own senses, bodies, and abilities. This is technology in a broad sense, not the more narrow, specific usage that we’ve grown accustomed to. The tools that formerly whizzed and whirred and bleeped and blooped but now fit in our pockets and connect to wireless networks are technology, yes, but they are from a very specific family of technology called “digital technology.” Other inventions like cars, corkscrews, and calendars are also technology, although each from a different family.

This nuanced understanding means that the average liturgical service is brimming with technology. Audio systems (technology) amplify the pastor's voice while electric bulbs (technology) help worshipers see the book (technology) in their hands as they sit on pews or in chairs (both technology). Experts used needle and thread, and even powered machines to craft the paraments that adorn our sanctuaries. A carpenter once used woodworking technology to convert raw materials into an altar, pulpit, and font. People even travel thousands of miles to admire European church technologies like the flying buttress and the tracker action pipe organ.

In its broad sense, technology is the art, skill, and craft of human minds. Scripture teaches that God serves the world through individual vocations. “We are God’s masks,” says Luther. Indeed, our entire body and life are meant to be a dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Art, skill, and craft—technology, that is—are extensions of ourselves for they are expressions of our own soul.

Technologies enable us to carry out our vocations with greater range and impact. Who could count how many encouraging words have been exchanged between Christians over the telephone? How many hours have been recovered for ministry thanks to the automobile? How many minds have been enlightened because we have the ability to reproduce printed materials on a massive scale?

Of course, in a fallen world, any art, skill, or craft can be put to bad use. Even our own tongues—which are God’s creation and not ours—frequently spew forth evil. Without the covering grace of God’s love everything we make and do is by nature unclean. We need redemption, and we have it through the blood of Christ. Now Jesus can call what we make and do salt and light—a vast improvement. The Spirit now moves us to put art, skill, and craft into the Lord’s service.

There will be plenty of time to discuss the negative effects that come from sinful hands operating human technologies. Today’s world is in a period of turmoil and transition as two major eras of technology converge. As happens when hot and cold air collide, the centuries-old world of print media is mixing with the decades-old system of electronic media and the results have often been stormy. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

With a useful definition of technology, the worshiping Christian can approach this topic with a level head. Understanding that technology is more pervasive than we might think gives us perspective. Realizing that technologies are an extension of human art, craft, and skill unlocks a redemptive, vocational approach to technology.

At the beginning of December, 218 congregations began a three-year collaborative review for the WELS hymnal project. Each week these congregations will be reporting information about their worship and offering input to the hymnal project’s executive committee regarding the resources available in Christian Worship. Having completed one week of review, here is what a sample of the results looks like. We are thankful to all who are talking the time to do these reviews and we value the input greatly.

For those congregations not participating, as well as for the synod at large, there will be additional opportunities to offer feedback and input, including a series of surveys distributed synod-wide during the coming year. For the first several years of the project, gathering information will be the major focus of the communications committee.

As a reminder, you may at any time offer input through our website’s contact submission form. Every submission is reviewed by the communications committee and forwarded to the appropriate subcommittee for its review and action.